Highway 9 Iron Springs project battles weather to hit 2017 completion
October 4, 2017
It may not look it, what with the throng of hardhats and heavy-duty construction vehicles still maneuvering about, but the four-lane State Highway 9 expansion north of Breckenridge is approaching completion and, weather pending, on track for winter.
The almost $23 million Iron Springs realignment project formally broke ground in June 2016 after the contract was awarded to Colorado-based SEMA Construction for a two-year turnaround. According to the deal, the Colorado Department of Transportation can levy hefty daily fines on the contractor for not finishing the job by Dec. 31 of this year.
A potential hang-up is that construction season in the mountains is often seen as running through October, rarely later, due to the early snowfalls and freezing temperatures. Much of the future northbound lanes presently remains unpaved, and asphalt has to be laid at a certain heat that autumn in the High Country seldom offers.
"They're cutting it close in the sense that once we get into October, the weather, as we saw in the last 72 hours, can go south on you, so to speak, pretty quickly," said Tom Gosiorowski, Summit's public works director. "We face the risk of weather settling in for the winter and shutting you down. That doesn't happen in August."
The weather forecast for the county's south end currently calls for a couple days with precipitation over the next week with otherwise mild temperatures and sunny afternoons. That should grant an opportunity to continue plugging away toward hitting that target as well as finishing the reroute of the recpath.
CDOT and its civil engineering firm, Cirque Civil, have each offered a vote of confidence and feel comfortable that SEMA is on schedule to nail its goal. If that happens, for the first time, four lanes — two in each direction — will connect the turn at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center to Summit High School.
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"From the traveler's perspective, the pavement will be down, striping will be in place and so will the signage," said Thad Noll, Summit's assistant county manager. "That's everybody's expectation."
The two southbound lanes of the new alignment opened on June 7 — temporarily allowing one in each direction — and the reimagined Dillon Reservoir recpath followed on Sept. 13. With the clock ticking and so much of the project still at least appearing incomplete, both Commissioner Dan Gibbs and county manager Scott Vargo openly wondered on Tuesday morning whether the project would hit its scheduled time frame.
What does seem clear, unless November ends up unseasonably dry, is some of the final elements of the project will get only partially sewn up. In particular, the revegetation of the area is likely to spill over into next spring or summer.
Although that would have no bearing on the drivability of the road, it is a requirement of the contract. If CDOT chooses to impose a percentage of those financial damages over the lack of full project completion, the state agency can do so.
Officials emphasize that items like landscaping, as well as other amenities such bike racks, picnic tables and designated pathways down to the reservoir along the recpath, can easily be added later on. Right now, the priority is wrapping up the expanded roadway ideally by early November so commuters and ski traffic can benefit from it during the busy winter high season.
After that, the focus becomes figuring out the last section of State Highway 9, a 0.75-mile stretch in Frisco from the County Commons south to the stoplight at the medical center that will for the meantime remain one lane each direction. Gap III, as it's known, is already into the initial design phase, but is itself a future multi-million-dollar project with no obvious funding stream.
Once all four lanes of the Iron Springs project are open, the short segment will also function as an inconvenient chokepoint in and out of Breckenridge without an immediate solution. Some projections have suggested the regional infrastructure funding to support the project may not be available for another four years.
"There's really no good news on it — it's a nuisance to have a very short chokepoint," said Noll. "We'll continue to work with CDOT to see if there are things we can do to mitigate that. But for now we're excited, and the main thing for everybody for the winter is let's get the roadway done, let's get the bike path finished so that next spring we can start using it."
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